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Art Garcia

David Stern, Billy Hunter
NBA commissioner David Stern, left, with union head Billy Hunter at the 2009 All-Star Game.
Bill Baptist/NBAE via Getty Images

Hunter lays out proposal for players, shoots down hard cap

Posted Dec 8 2010 12:06PM - Updated Dec 13 2010 12:13PM

The National Basketball Players Association, in an address to its members last week, said it's willing and ready to negotiate with the NBA over a new collective bargaining agreement. But don't try to force players to accept a hard salary cap or salary rollbacks.

NBPA executive director Billy Hunter made those points and more in a podcast sent to the entire union membership detailing the union stance, sources familiar with the proposal told

The nine-minute podcast broke down key elements of the union's offer and summarized the league's position for the more than 400 players in the NBA. Hunter said during the podcast that the players' plan, presented to the league on July 1, is "intended to try to move the negotiations forward" by addressing several of the owners' major concerns.

The NBPA has offered to negotiate a reduced "floor" in its guaranteed piece of the revenue pie, commonly referred to as Basketball Related Income (BRI), while keeping the "ceiling" at its current level. Players are guaranteed 57 percent of BRI in the existing agreement, which expires at the end of the season.

The union agreed with the league that increased revenue sharing is needed among clubs, too. But the players are holding firm on certain tent-pole principles. "The union will not agree to a hard cap on the heels of the league generating record revenues year after year," Hunter told the players.

Any insistence on a hard cap could well be the major sticking point in the negotiations, and could lead to a work stoppage next summer. Hunter recently said that he's "99 percent sure" a lockout is coming after the CBA expires.

NBA spokesman Mike Bass issued the following statement Wednesday with regards to collective bargaining: "Our goal remains the same: a sustainable business model that encourages teams to make necessary investments and provides the opportunity for all 30 teams to compete for a championship."

Reaching the players

Along with the podcast, the union has sent players a series of mailings explaining the league's bid to roll back salaries by as much as 40 percent overall, to reduce maximum salaries and guarantees, to institute shorter contracts and to create a hard cap to replace a soft cap filled with exceptions.

Under the league's initial proposal, a max-level player such as Kobe Bryant earning nearly $25 million this season would make $11 million in the new system, with less than $5 million of that guaranteed, according to sources.

NBA commissioner David Stern said before the season that a reduction of $750-800 million in salaries and benefits is needed annually under a new CBA to insure the financial health of the league's 30 clubs. The league also is claiming more than $1 billion in losses since the current CBA went into effect in 2005, including $380 million last season. The league says it has provided its audited financial records to the NBPA.

The union has flatly rejected those numbers and the methods used to arrive at them, pointing to the record revenues last season that led to an increase in the current salary cap. The league has said that new ticket sales this season are up somewhere in the neighborhood of $100 million, but maintains that the cost of doing business has skyrocketed.

The union believes that the current system is fair, noting that player salary growth has been modest and the future salary commitments for current contracts has consistently gone down since 2004.

The key element of the union proposal is an offer to negotiate a "ceiling" and a "floor" to the players' guaranteed percentage of BRI, while keeping the current escrow system and a soft cap in place. In essence, the union is asking for 57 percent to remain as a maximum for player salaries and benefits, but will allow for a lesser amount.

For example: If 55 percent of BRI is used as a floor and salaries and other benefits come in at 55 percent, that's all owners would be required to pay. Under the current system, if salaries came in at 55 percent, the owners still are obligated to pay the union the remaining 2 percent to get up to the 57 percent.

Hunter said in the podcast that such a system would be "rewarding efficient team management."

Said Hunter: "We're putting the responsibility on the teams to make better business decisions."

The union didn't specify what the floor would be in its proposal.

Other union proposals

The union also is asking for several changes designed to boost player movement, such as enhanced "trade and signing flexibility" and a mechanism to "promote more bidding on restricted free agents." Such adjustments would "loosen the rigid trade restrictions that prevent player movement more so than in any other team sport," Hunter said.

The union also asked to shorten the period that teams have to match the offers to restricted free agents. It's currently one week, with the union believed to want 2-3 days. Hunter also proposed dropping the bi-annual exception in exchange for a second mid-level exception, and the proposal also called for reducing the length of mid-level contracts from five years to four.

Other major points in the union offer are a reduction of the age limit back to 18, a "neutral review of on-court discipline" fines and punishments, adjustment to BRI calculations for teams for making major investments in new arenas/arena renovations, and alterations to the Draft to address competitive balance concerns.

In several of these instances, the NBPA didn't make concrete suggestions. Instead, the subjects were broached to spark dialogue, according to union sources.

The two sides could meet sometime later this month for another bargaining session.

Art Garcia has covered the NBA since 1999. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

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